10 Things You Didn't Know About WWE In 1996

1996: when everything changed in Vince McMahon's WWE a year before you thought it did...

Steve Austin Terry Funk

You'll struggle to find two years in wrestling more different, tonally, than 1995 and 1997.

1995 was an antiquated, bleak, small-time nightmare. Clown characters broke wind as they hit their finish. Bret Hart, the best technical wrestler in company history, was booked to do a Hulk Hogan-style Monster of the Week run, and while it was lame, Bret did the best job he could with it. He couldn't do anything with Isaac Yankem, but that was Kane. Kane couldn't work a classic match if it was a Six-Pack Challenge also involving 1989 Ric Flair, 2018 Kenny Omega, PWG Keith Lee, 2002 Kurt Angle and 2003 Kenta Kobashi.

1997 was wild: the WWF was on the cusp of something amazing with its meta-premised storylines, realistic characters, and incredible finishes. If you're going to book a f*** finish, and it isn't as good as the main event of SummerSlam '97, don't bother.

1995 was the year of pitifully stupid caricatures. 1997 was the year of wrestlers, to their eventual detriment, playing a character so close to their real selves that the only true difference was spandex.

So what happened in the interim...?

10. It Was More Creative Than Most Years

Steve Austin Terry Funk

While not necessarily a great year - 1996 was the definition of uneven, between gross wrestling plumber TL Hopper and the best video package WWE ever produced - it was as creative as WWE ever got.

The creativity wasn't necessarily great all or even much of the time, but the willingness to explore virtually every new direction underscored what a crazed response to the omni-failure of the prior year 1996 was. The WWF either invented or borrowed no less than eight gimmick matches that had never been seen on its own programming before. They were as follows:

Crybaby - In Your House: Rage In The Cage; Hollywood Back Lot Brawl / Iron Man - WrestleMania XII; Caribbean Strap - In Your House: Beware of Dog; Boiler Room Brawl - SummerSlam; Armageddon Rules - In Your House: It's Time; Final Curtain - In Your House: Mind Games; Buried Alive - In Your House: Buried Alive.

The Crybaby match was dire, and the Final Curtain was a glorified No Disqualification match, but the Boiler Room Brawl was key. Mankind and the Undertaker destroyed one another in a violent and compelling backstage brawl, one that unlocked a new realm, a new creative outlet, one that informed the endlessly entertaining hijinks of the imminent Attitude Era. Armageddon Rules meanwhile was an experimental pilot of the Last Man Standing match that WWE promotes to this day.

1996 was the year in which - between the incredible brawling of the Strap and Boiler Room matches and the technical purity of the Iron Man - the WWF embraced true stylistic range for the first time.

1996 was the year in which, one year earlier than you may have thought, the WWF started to get it.


Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and current Undisputed WWE Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!